DAYS 93 – 147: BRAZIL
Next stop is Bonito where you can swim and snorkel in some of the clearest rivers and lakes in the world. Spectacular walks in the mountainous forests may reveal wildlife that includes monkeys, alligators and anaconda.
You then begin your travel through Brazil in earnest as you journey on to the Pantanal region where you can take part in treks and horserides out into the vast wetlands which is home to over 600 species of birds and 350 kinds of fish, piranha being common, as well as an abundance of reptiles and animals. Try your hand at Piranha fishing too!
You now head to the coastal village of Parati. This unspoilt and picturesque town has remained fundamentally unaltered for three centuries. Cars have been banned from its cobbled streets that run down to the seashore, instead mountain bikes are used and are a good way to get around. Another great way to explore the secluded islands of this pristine coastline is taking a sailing trip in one of the traditional schooners.
From Paraty your overland tour heads to the hedonistic playground of Rio de Janeiro, where the folk are raring to party out of their minds and live purely for the moment. Your trip arrives into Rio in time for New Year’s Eve which is always chaotic, crowded and fun as you party alongside 5 million other revellers!
You will spend a total of five nights here, with plenty to fit in; why not take in the sights on optional city and favela tours, try your hand at hang-gliding or just relax on one of Rio’s white sand beaches.
You will leave the stunning views of Rio and the party vibe behind and head north to the mountain retreat of Teresopolis. The road winds up the hillside through jungle, with dramatic peaks towering overhead. You have a free day where you can visit the Parque Nacional Da Serra Dos Argaos and walk trails to waterfalls, with stunning views of obscurely shaped mountain tops.
Continuing north you make a short stop in Congonhas to see 12 lifelike Old Testament figures sculpted from soapstone, which stand proudly outside the Basilica do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos. Your journey then takes you to quite possibly the most significant and beautiful colonial town of the area, Ouro Preto. Even vehicles are not able to navigate the narrow and winding cobbled streets. The biggest attraction is the Minas de Passagem (Gold Mine) – antique cable cars take you underground in to the mine which was originally opened in 1719.
You will then explore the coastline, home of some of Brazil’s best and least known beaches and far less populated with tourists than the resorts of Recife and Rio. You will either stay in locally owned Pousadas (guesthouses) or camp under the stars, as you pass through Linhares to Itaunas. Time can be spent exploring this sleepy fishing village or wandering the dune trails and relaxing on the beach.
Caravelas is your next destination, on the mangrove lined Rio Caravelas. You have the option to take a day trip to the nearby reefs in Parque Nacional Marinho de Abrolhos, where there is the chance to swim with sea turtles. Alternatively the day can be spent on the beach or wandering along the riverfront.
Venturing further north, you pass by some of the more remote beaches, where you may either camp or stay in local Pousadas. If time allows, you may also stop off in Parque Nacional Monte Pascoal which is controlled by the local Pataxo (pa-ta-sho) Indians. Here you can walk the trails to try to spot the endangered spider monkey, sloths, porcupines, capybara, deer, elusive jaguar and numerous species of bird.
Porto Seguro is your next stop and is the region where Portuguese sailors first landed in the New World over 500 years ago, and where you can still see relics from those early settlement days. A steep climb up to Cidade Historica will be rewarded with sweeping views, colourful old buildings and museums. Porto Seguro is also known for its nightlife and ‘beach action!’
You then take the ferry across Brazil’s largest bay, Baia de Todos os Santos, and arrive in the Afro-Brazilian city of Salvador. Around 40% of all African slaves transported to the new world came to Salvador and this has left a very particular vibe – tropical, soulful and intoxicating, that is unique to this corner of Brazil. The centre is separated by a steep bluff, in to the Cidade Alta (Upper City) and Baixa (Lower City) and access is gained in the beautifully restored art-deco elevator – Elevado Lacerda. You have a few days to wander and take in the music, cuisine and religion of the region. You can also stop off in the Praca da Se and watch locals practicing the dance fighting known as Capoeira.
Heading west, you come to the quaint town of Lencois. With its cobbled streets and brightly painted 19th Century buildings, it’s the prettiest of the old diamond mining towns. The mighty Fumaca waterfalls, various caves and idyllic rivers and panoramic plateaus set the stage for some fantastic adventures. Or maybe just wander the streets, grab a coffee, take in the local life and enjoy some of the excellent cuisine.
After a night quite possibly spent under the stars, you continue into the interior of Brazil where roads start to become more arduous, and you make a stop in Navidade, in the green and wooded valley of Serra Geral. More cobbled streets and prettily painted, tile roofed 18th and 19th Century houses await and you have a day to explore the town and possibly relax in nearby small waterfalls and refreshing natural bathing pools.
Following the highway north you reach the confusing layout of Palmas. The Tocantins state capital was only constructed in 1989 and has a sort of ‘planned weirdness’ about its streets. You then move on to the cozy town of Taquarucu, some 30kms South East of Palmas, where you spend the next few days. The local tourism boards have worked together to try to create Taquarucu as an eco tourism mecca. In the area there are some 80 waterfalls, caves and pools, which you’ll have time to explore. For those that want to go wildlife spotting, several optional tours are available to the nearby parks of Estadual do Jalapao and Ilha do Bananal. In the latter, there is a good chance to see dolphins, caiman, giant river turtles and lots of bird life. Although difficult and unpredictable, you may also catch a glimpse of a Tapir or Jaguar!
Now starts the long drive to Belem on the Atlantic coast. Upon its completion in the 1960s this road through the jungle was heralded as a feat of engineering as it overcame the unforgiving Amazon to allow people and goods to be transported from the Brazilian interior to the ports of Belem for exportation. Now the rainforest has given way to further development and you pass through vast stretches of farmland, camping overnight in remote Postos before arriving in Belem.
You have a free day to explore Belem and wander the riverside walkways of the mighty Amazon before boarding your boat and hanging up your hammock ready for the journey across the mighty Amazon delta. Nothing can prepare you for the sheer size of this area, as it will take you 24 hours to journey from Belem on the south bank to Macapa on the north.
Macapa is an overnight stop as you wait for your overland truck to arrive on a separate ferry from Belem. This gives you time to explore this commercial hub where gold, iron, timber, oil and tin ore pass through on its way to neighbouring Santana. The Equator also runs through the centre of the city, which has lead residents to call it ‘The capital of the middle of the world’.
From Macapa you journey north on dirt roads, quite often having to use the sand mats to make it through the mud and to reconstruct wooden bridges!